Why Treatment for Women Struggling with Addiction Needs to Address Women-Specific Issues

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Center for Network Therapy on 3/19/2019

WEST ORANGE, N.J.March 19, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — As the addiction epidemic continues to spread, it is ensnaring more women. 19.5 million women over age 18 (15.4%) used illicit drugs in the past year; 8.4 million misused prescription drugs; and, the growth rate of addiction to heroin for women has outpaced that of men since 2003. Dr. Indra Cidambi, Medical Director, Center for Network Therapy (CNT), commented, “There are several reasons why women are prone to get addicted faster than men, but the primary reason is biology.”

“A majority of women with addiction issues have suffered sexual abuse earlier in their life, which caused mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD later,” said Dr. Cidambi. “And many slipped unknowingly into addiction while trying to self-medicate, often with devastating consequences to their health and lifestyle.”

A woman’s body contains less water than men (drugs/alcohol in the system are less diluted), more fatty tissue (higher retention) and lower levels of specific enzymes (slower break down of substances). “As a result, women can progress faster to addiction than men as their bodies are exposed to the substance longer and at higher concentration levels,” Dr. Cidambi adds.

Women experience depression and anxiety at higher rates. As per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, from puberty to age 50, women are twice as likely as men to have an anxiety disorder, and they occur earlier. “Often these disorders go undiagnosed,” stated Dr. Cidambi. “This leads to a level of self-medication through illegal drugs and alcohol.”

Faced with chemical dependence, women defer treatment, due to guilt about abandoning their role in the family. Consequently, CNT’s treatment plan for women incorporates these factors:

  1. First, CNT utilizes decisional balancing exercises. The clinical team works with the patient to evaluate the pros and cons of the decision to enter treatment and extrapolate consequences of not entering treatment in order to ensure adherence and compliance with treatment.
  2. CNT provides therapy and medication to address psychological issues, often in conjunction with the primary care physician.
  3. The program incorporates self-help groups, as women connect better to peers, helping accelerate recovery.
  4. CNT brings immediate family into treatment when needed, helping to elevate support at home and address potential triggers.
  5. CNT also mitigates logistical problems by building flexibility into its programs.

Treatment that focuses on women-specific issues yields better results. A survey of 136 detox patients (men & women), yielded that over 65% were sober longer than 90 days after completing Ambulatory Detoxification at CNT, while statistics show that about 40% remained sober for 90 days after inpatient detoxification. The higher success rate is driven by the success with women.

“With increasing addiction rates among women, it is paramount that we modify our treatment protocols to tailor to women’s specific needs,” Dr. Cidambi concludes. “It is only then, that we will start to win the fight against addiction.”